Policy-ish

Who Gets Pinched By Health Overhaul?

The president's promise of expanding coverage to tens of millions of uninsured Americans would come at a heavy personal price for some.

bungee jumper takes a leap. i i

Who needs health insurance? Not me. iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto.com
bungee jumper takes a leap.

Who needs health insurance? Not me.

iStockphoto.com

Health coverage under the overhaul plan would be mandatory, with a few exemptions, and those who don't get coverage through their jobs or a government plan like Medicaid would face a penalty if they don't buy insurance themselves.

That's where subsidies are supposed to make a difference, but healthy young people who've long gambled they can get by without coverage and working folks who are just eking out a living may balk anyway. Subsidies may not help them much, if at all, so an insurance mandate could cost these people a pretty penny.

The Wall Street Journal's Vanessa Fuhrmans takes a look at the universal coverage laboratory that is Massachusetts for clues. Three years ago the state made health coverage mandatory and provides subsidies to help people afford it. The law lowered the rate of uninsured to about 3 percent, the lowest in the nation, but there are

Take, for instance, a community college professor who doesn't get insurance at work and whose family-of-three's income is just north of $60,000 a year, too much to quality for help. "I can't use up all of my savings just to buy mandatory insurance," Ron Norton tells the Journal, adding, "it's like penalizing 'the homeless for refusing to buy a mansion."In 2008, he paid a penalty of about $1,000 rather than buy coverage that he considered too expensive and not worth the money.

The Washington Post zeroes in on the financial price young people may have to pay under an insurance mandate.

Even the cheapest plan contemplated by a Senate Finance Committee bill in the works could cost more than $100 a month, which might lead young single people to choose paying a fine that could be less than a $1,000 a year.

The implications for passage of an overhaul loom large. "If you're talking about millions of people who will have to buy insurance by themselves, this could be a difficult political issue," Harvard's Robert Blendon tells the Journal. "Unless subsidies are substantial, you're going to have middle-class resistance to this."

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